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Abolition of the Death Penalty: A Tough Road ahead for India

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The movement against the death penalty in present-day India faces a tremendous challenge in terms of extensive public clamour for swift executions, removal of appeals, and even support for summary executions. 
With the imminent execution of the four convicts in the Delhi gang rape and murder case against the background of reactions to incidents in Hyderabad, Kathua and Unnao, harsher punishments are receiving tremendous public support, and politicians are only happy to oblige. The Supreme Court has issued administrative orders (1) to hear death sentence cases faster amidst misplaced concerns in the public that death row prisoners have too many loopholes in the law to exploit.
Framing the death penalty as a political–legal issue in India is not easy. Located within the wider spectrum of social and state violence in India, the exceptional nature of the cruelty of the death penalty is difficult to establish. 
The suffering inflicted by the death penalty is the constant and daily uncerta…

California | One year after execution halt, death penalty cases go on

Dismantling California's gas chamber
Though the state death chamber is shut down capital punishment cases still go on in trial courts around California

It was the afternoon of March 13, 2019, and at San Quentin State Prison, the symbolism was hard to miss.

A handful of prison guards were photographed grappling with the apple-green metal chairs and a sleek gurney, clambering out of the confines of the prison’s execution chamber and loading the equipment on a flatbed truck.

Another guard posted a hastily printed sign on the door to the death chamber. “Gas chamber CLOSED per Executive Order N-09-19.”

At virtually the same time as the workers dismantled the state’s furniture of capital punishment, Gov. Gavin Newsom was explaining to a news conference in the capital why just that morning he had decided to declare a moratorium on all executions in the state, for as long as he was in office.

“I think, if someone kills, we don’t kill,” Newsom said. “We’re better than that. So, this moratorium advances that principal.”

One year later, the death chamber remains empty and unused, but death penalty cases continue to make their way through state trial courts. While Newsom left no doubt that he was opposed to capital punishment, prosecutors in the state seem not to have been deterred.

The governor’s executive order applied only to those already on death row — there are 728, the nation’s largest collection of the condemned — and did not wipe out the state law allowing juries and judges to impose the death penalty.

In San Diego County, District Attorney Summer Stephan has decided to seek the death penalty in four cases since Newsom made his moratorium announcement. In the previous 2 years, the death penalty had been sought only once — in 2017 against the accused killer of San Diego Police Officer Jonathan De Guzman, a case that has yet to go to trial.

There were no death penalty cases filed by San Diego prosecutors in all of 2018. The four cases in which Stephan has sought death are:

• Cesar Alvarrado, 41, accused of taking part in a 2-week crime spree in which one person was killed and another paralyzed;

• John Earnest, 20, who is accused of opening fire at the Chabad of Poway in April, killing 1 person and wounding several others;

• Malissa James, 28, accused with another man in the stabbing death of a woman in Carlsbad;

• Shaun Ward, 40, accused of killing a woman in a Midway adult store.

All of those cases are still pending.

California's death rowThe sharp increase in death penalty cases locally was different than surrounding counties, several of which have for years prosecuted more death cases than San Diego. In Orange County, which has put eight people on death row since 2013, there were no capital cases filed in all of 2019, a spokesman there said.

In Los Angeles County, where 22 people have been put on death row since 2013, prosecutors sought the death penalty against three people in two separate cases since Newsom’s executive order. The office has 18 pending death cases. District Attorney Jackie Lacey has come under criticism by the American Civil Liberties Union and other groups for her capital case prosecutions focused on the fact that all 22 people sentenced to death are people of color.


Riverside County filed four death penalty cases since March 2019 and has 13 other death cases pending. Twice in the past five years, in 2015 and 2017, no other county in the nation sent more people to death row than Riverside, according to the anti-capital punishment group the Death Penalty Information Center.

Tanya Sierra, a spokeswoman for Stephan, said the upswing in capital case filings in the county is not a reaction to Newsom’s moratorium, which took many prosecutors by surprise and was criticized by Stephan at the time.

“The death penalty is applied very rarely and to only the most violent, heinous, cold-blooded crimes,” Sierra wrote in an email. “We have no control over how many such crimes are committed from year to year in San Diego County, but we have a duty under the law to consider filing the death penalty when presented with those cases.”

But whether death cases should go forward in the face of a moratorium that will last as long as Newsom is in office is still a matter of debate. In September the state Supreme Court declined to take up a case by lawyers representing 2 defendants in the Los Angeles 2019 death cases, who argued pursuing a death case under the execution halt prejudiced their clients.

The lawyers contended jurors in such cases would be more likely to vote in favor of the death penalty if they believed it would never be carried out. Though the court did not take up the case, critics say that some prosecutors could be seen as pushing back against Newsom in death cases.

“I can not tell you a decision to charge is politically motivated but the statements we have seen some prosecutors make with references to the moratorium suggest they have more than just law enforcement in mind,” said Robert Dunham, the executive director of the Death Penalty Information Center.

Closed signHe pointed specifically to comments made after the decision to seek the death penalty against Joseph James DeAngelo, the accused “Golden State Killer,” charged in a dozen slayings and more than 50 rapes in a terrifying decades-long crime spree across the state.

Santa Barbara Joyce Dudley told The Santa Barbara Independent newspaper in May that “I have every right to keep prosecuting cases that are death penalty eligible.” Orange County District Attorney Todd Spitzer appeared at a news conference with relatives of some of DeAngelo’s victims and said Newsom “took a knife and stabbed it into the heart of all these crime victims.”

David Loy, the legal director for the ACLU of San Diego & Imperial Counties, said it was difficult to ascribe a specific political motive to death decisions. But he said an equally important issue is why prosecutors, in the face of a moratorium, are electing to pursue time-consuming and costly death prosecutions.

“Nothing requires them to do this,” he said of the decision to seek the death penalty. “It is important for the public to know their DA is allocating resources in this way and choosing to fight these battles."

California has not executed anyone since 2006. When Newsom made his announcement the death row census stood at 738. Since then 10 inmates have died, 1 from a drug overdose, 2 from natural causes. The causes of death for the remainder have not been determined.

Source: San Diego Union Tribune, Staff, March 23, 2020


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"One is absolutely sickened, not by the crimes that the wicked have committed,
but by the punishments that the good have inflicted." -- Oscar Wilde

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